FRANKFORT — Kentucky's two Republican U.S. senators — one a Tea Party darling and the other whose ties to that conservative movement are tenuous at best — lambasted President Barack Obama's health care law Tuesday at a Tea Party rally.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Bowling Green, who rode into office in 2010 on a Tea Party tidal wave, told a crowd of more than 300 on the steps of Kentucky's Capitol that he still thinks "the whole damn thing is unconstitutional."
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the federal Affordable Care Act earlier this summer.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Louisville, who has been visiting hospitals across the state to criticize the health plan he calls "Obamacare," said his first job would be to repeal the plan if he is elected Senate majority leader next year.
Paul and McConnell were greeted enthusiastically by the crowd at the rally, and spoke highly of each other. But some Tea Party activists expressed reservations about McConnell.
Lexington Tea Party activist Mica Sims said McConnell's relationship with the movement that advocates limited government has "always been rocky." But she quickly said that she was pleased that McConnell "was sticking to the issues today that the Tea Party embraces."
"To the extent that Sen. McConnell speaks the right way and does the right thing, his relationship to the Tea Party can be very good," said party activist David Adams of Lexington. "We don't really care about personalities. We care about principles."
Carol Ferriell, vice chairman of the Spencer County Tea Party, said she has "mixed feelings" about McConnell.
"I don't necessarily agree with all his big spending, but he's on board with us against Obamacare. I'll take him today," she said.
Frank Harris of Lexington, who is aligned with the Tea Party movement and with a group called Campaign for Liberty, did not look kindly on McConnell.
"I'm saying Mitch is late to the Tea Party," Harris said. "He supported the bailout of the banks. He is big government. I think he's feeling the heat from the people who want to rein in government."
Paul and McConnell left the rally immediately after they spoke to attend a fund-raiser at Republican Party headquarters and did not take questions from reporters.
During his speech, Paul praised McConnell for being more vocal against Obama than anyone in Washington. McConnell returned the favor, calling Paul "bright, capable, effective, an extraordinary new senator from Kentucky and my teammate."
Other speakers at the rally included Andy Barr, a Lexington attorney who is in a rematch this year against Democratic incumbent Ben Chandler of Woodford County for Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District seat; state House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown; and state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.
Thayer told the crowd that Obama should be sent back to Chicago or Hawaii, "wherever he wants to go."
Someone shouted out that the president should be sent to Kenya.
Thayer replied, "I'm not going to say that, but I appreciate your sentiments."
The rally also drew dozens of counter-protesters who favor Obama and the health care act.
Debra Harper of Louisville said she suffered a mild stroke last February because of a heart problem she had at birth.
"Our president finally gave this nation a blueprint for health care," she said. "It's like a blueprint for a house. There may be some changes you want in it, but it's a sound structure, and people who want to discard all of it are being cruel."